April 30, 2007


The Empire of Lies: The twenty-first century will not belong to China. (Guy Sormanm, Spring 2007, City Journal)

The Western press is full of stories these days on China’s arrival as a superpower, some even heralding, or warning, that the future may belong to her. Western political and business delegations stream into Beijing, confident of China’s economy, which continues to grow rapidly. Investment pours in. Crowning China’s new status, Beijing will host the 2008 Summer Olympics.

But China’s success is, at least in part, a mirage. True, 200 million of her subjects, fortunate to be working for an expanding global market, increasingly enjoy a middle-class standard of living. The remaining 1 billion, however, remain among the poorest and most exploited people in the world, lacking even minimal rights and public services. Popular discontent simmers, especially in the countryside, where it often flares into violent confrontation with Communist Party authorities. China’s economic “miracle” is rotting from within.

The Party’s primary concern is not improving the lives of the downtrodden; it seeks power more than it seeks social development. It expends extraordinary energy in suppressing Chinese freedoms—the media operate under suffocating censorship, and political opposition can result in expulsion or prison—even as it tries to seduce the West, which has conferred greater legitimacy on it than do the Chinese themselves.

The West’s tendency to misread China dates back to the seventeenth century, when French and Italian Jesuit travelers formed stereotypes that clutter our minds even today. We learned then—or thought we learned—that the Chinese were not like us. They had no religion, and the notion of freedom was alien to them. They naturally gravitated toward enlightened despotism, as embodied by the philosopher-emperor. Such misconceptions link up across time: Voltaire sang the praises of the Mandarins, wishing a similar elite class could rule Europe; leftist intellectuals in the sixties and seventies celebrated the heroism of Mao Zedong; and today’s business elites happily go along with the Communist propaganda that democracy and free speech are contrary to the Chinese ethos.

Yet with enough patience and will, one can plunge into the real China. Since 1967, I have visited the country regularly, and I spent all of 2005 and part of 2006 traveling through her teeming cities as well as her innermost recesses, where few Westerners go. I make no claim to know China fully, an impossibly ambitious task. I merely want to record the words and impressions of some exceptional Chinese men and women, who mostly suffer in silence, raising when they can the demand for a free nation—a “normal” nation.

It would seem an opportune moment to revive the Dr. Fu Manchu franchise.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 30, 2007 2:40 PM

The notion that a country with a billion peasants and no children is on the cusp of becoming a global superpower is not one that a grown-up can take seriously.

Posted by: b at April 30, 2007 2:55 PM

Right. Also we have the idea that Communism is good enough for the lesser breeds, who are content to laguish behing its jailhouse bars. To this we add the self-hatred of the culture-raitor/folk-enemy set who pine for somebody, anybody, to take down the United States.

How much more likely is it that China will follow the Peristroika-Glasnost-liberation scenario?

Posted by: Lou Gots at April 30, 2007 3:09 PM

The self-anointed have been taught to instinctively believe that they are superior ... but reality insists otherwise, so they are forced to adopt false fronts, to project their failings onto others, to see conspiracies on every corner ... the whole narcissistic, envious pattern. They need others to fail because status is relative and their own reach exceeds their grasp.

It's self-reinforcing, too. Every time they're told that they're losing status it's self-definitionally true simply because it's been said. That's why it continues. They really need a project of some sort thru which to grapple with reality firsthand, overcome some obstacles, and break out of their perpetual cycle of adolescent angst.

Posted by: ras at April 30, 2007 6:18 PM

According to Jasper Becker, families of three to five children, not just one child, are the norm in rural China, so China's real population could be anywhere north of 1.7 billion. Civil war and collapse are probably a lot closer than we are allowed to hear.

Posted by: jbeckett at April 30, 2007 6:44 PM

Gosh with 93+ years to go, isn't it a bit premature to predict the 21st century's winners?

Posted by: erp at May 1, 2007 12:34 PM

It think not, so let me start early, America wins again!! We're number one, We're number one, We're number one!

Posted by: KRS at May 1, 2007 3:03 PM

KRS, of course, it goes without saying that I mean after us. We are number one and will be into infinity and beyond.

Posted by: erp [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 1, 2007 6:20 PM


Posted by: oj at May 1, 2007 8:43 PM